Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hanging out in Makati

I arrived in the Philippines, at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, a little before midnight on August 16th. I had searched for the cheapest flight out of Japan, to wherever, using, which is now my go-to app for looking for cheap flights. No shit. You can pick a this case, I picked Japan, and sort for the cheapest flights out of that country, and you don't even have to pick a destination. It will show you the cheapest flights, and then you can look at every day of the month to see if you can find them even cheaper. You can pick a destination, of course, if you want, either by city or by country, but in this case I was just looking for a roulette wheel spin to my next destination. The cheapest international flight I found was from Fukuoka to Manila, for about eighty bucks. So Manila it is. I hadn't even been considering the Philippines, but since the flight was cheap, I went for it.

The flight was on Cebu Pacific Air. I had never even heard of this airline. Once I got directed to their site to book my flight, I had to opt out of all kinds of sneaky add-ins that would have increased my fare a lot more. The only one I kept was the one-bag option, so I could check my backpack (it's a little too big to be a carry-on), and then I could carry my other bag as a carry-on.

As a sidebar, I'm traveling with the Osprey 70 Farpoint, which is probably one of the best travel bags, in my opinion. It has a 55 liter main bag, and then a front compartment bag that holds 15 liters that unzips from it to make a day pack. The day pack is a little small and has not many extra pockets, but it is great as a little day companion for a little bit of stuff. But right now, I am carrying a pair of tennis shoes in my day pack, and they take up almost the whole pack. They are the original shoes I brought with me, and I had to change to a pair of sandals because I was in the rainy season in Korea and they kept getting waterlogged. But I take them out and store them in my hostel room if I need the day pack for an outing. I haven't worn them at all since I switched to sandals, but eventually I will if it gets cold (which it won't for a while). I originally was traveling with just the Osprey, but as I gathered food and had the need for liquids, I started needing another bag. So I bought a cheap but highly functional extra bag that I wear on my front, but it doesn't have a lot of stuff in it, and I'm using it mostly for food and drinks. I was trying to avoid a front bag, but am trying to keep it down on the stuff I keep in it, so it is not too burdensome. Usually I have about 14 kilos of stuff in the Osprey, and two to six kilos in the front bag.

Anyway, I finished my interaction with the Cebu Pacific website, which is buggy and difficult, and full of scams that you have to opt out of. It probably took me two hours to book my flight. I figured that would be good practice for the Philippines.

After booking my flight, I went online to research the Philippines, and Manila in particular, since I was going there. There are some really cool places to go in the Philippines. The ones I have heard are the best are Palawan, Cebu, and the area with the rice terraces in the north part of the island of Luzon. I have even talked to one guy who went to Mindanao and had a great time, even though it is the island that is the center of the Muslim insurgency in the Philippines. But the shit I read about Manila scared the crap out of me. If you want a taste of the stuff I read, Google “Manila Danger” for some hair-raising tales. There were incidents of people being robbed at gunpoint, pickpockets everywhere, gangs of people looking to rip people off at the airport, etc. But there were also a lot of people insisting that it was a perfectly safe place, and they had had no problems. So, even though I had some trepidation, I decided to choose to believe that the danger stories were outliers, and most people have a safe and fun time. But the downside was that I only chose to stay in the Metro Manila area and not go to any of the amazing scenic spots. At least now I know where they are, so the next time I come, I can go to those places. But this time, I chose to chill just in Metro Manila (actually in Makati, which is one of the cities that makes up Metro Manila), until I split for my next destination, Vietnam, in which I will allow myself a lot more wandering space. And, really, I need the chill time. I've been traveling intensively for five months straight, and it is good to just sit and not have any expectations. So if any of you want to push any destinations in the Philippines on me, and insist that my trip won't be complete without them, well, that would be awesome, but my circumstances are different. Maybe (probably) next time.

Anyway, as I said earlier, I arrived a little after midnight. I had some trepidation about arriving so late, and wasn't sure I'd be able to find a safe cab, but it all worked out. Coming out of the airport was a little bit intense, because I had just arrived, didn't know what to expect, and was suddenly surrounded by throngs of humanity wanting to offer me all kinds of shit. I couldn't even pay attention to what they were offering, because they were all shouting over each other; all I could say was, “No, thanks.” It was human sensory overload in the worst way...I've had sensory overload from flashing buildings in Seoul and Tokyo, but never anything on the human interaction level like I did coming out of this airport. I just watched my shit, payed attention to my surroundings, had packed for security, and it was fine.

I took a Yellow Cab to the hostel from the airport because I heard they were the safest, though they were the most expensive. But it really wasn't that bad. It was about twelve bucks (about 500 and something pesos). I could have gone cheaper, and would now that I have experience with Manila, but it provided me with safety at the time, and it was the right choice to make with the information I had at the time. The Yellow Cab was very professional and dropped me off right at the hostel and waited until I had made my way in.

This hostel I stayed at (and am still staying in) is in Makati, which is the financial center of Manila, and has a reputation for being the safest area in the Metro Manila area. It is called Z Hostel, and it is a very secure and comfortable place, although maybe the security is a bit on the overkill side. But, better safe than sorry, right?

So, I get to the hostel, a little after midnight, and for some reason I'm not ready to crash yet. On the plane, I had a whole row to myself, so I just put up all the armrests and lay down on all the seats. There were three empty seats next to me, and they made a nice sleepy bed, so I relaxed (I wouldn't say that I slept, but I had a restful, peaceful time) on a bed made up of the three seats making up my row. I went up to the rooftop bar at the hostel, and immediately encountered a group of young-uns who were going out partying. Well, who am I to be the stickler in the party plans...of course I'm going out with the ravenous throng. So I followed someone who knew their shit about where to go in the area, and went with a group of people after midnight to some bar in the area, even though I have no idea where I am. Everybody ended up dancing on the dance floor, and of course I danced most of the night and even ended up dancing in the gogo cage for quite a while. Somebody had shown me a video they took of it, but they disappeared into the crowd. We all ended up out until about 6 in the morning; I was kind of shocked when I left the club and found that it was daylight outside. The next day I slept most of the day.

Just a few blocks away from the hostel is P. Burgos, which is one of the major red light districts in Makati. There are highly aggressive sex workers on the streets soliciting customers. They will follow you down the street and even get grabby sometimes. The strange thing is that the highest concentration of sex workers are right by the police kiosk on the street...though prostitution is illegal, it seems to be fairly tolerated. But who knows if selective enforcement occurs. The traffic light at the corner of P. Burgos and Kalayaan has never worked the whole time I have been here. The intersection is very busy and anarchic. People are constantly trying to force their way through from all sides and it can sometimes lead to gridlock. It is also really hard to cross the street there, as everybody is trying to run you down from all sides. Well, I wouldn't really say their purpose is to run you down, they are just trying to break through and make it through the intersection, and pedestrians are just potential collateral damage, having to really watch their asses as they make their way across the street. Metro Manila traffic is just plain awful almost all of the time. You can be stuck in gridlock for a good portion of the day trying to make your way across the area, which happened to me in the jeepneys I took. Even the traffic coming from the airport when I took a taxi at midnight was fairly bad.

I spent the next few days exploring the area in Metro Manila. Metro Manila is made up of several cities all clustered around the Manila area. I am staying in Makati, so I've probably seen more of that city than any of the other cities in the area. But I have also been to Manila proper, and spent a lot of time in Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila, which was the original site of the city of Manila back in the 16th century. It was also the center of governance during the Spanish Colonial period, which ended in the late 19th century when the Philippines were transferred to the US after the Spanish-American war. Due to three centuries of Spanish colonization, almost all the place names are in Spanish. But this overlay of Spanish is illusory, as hardly anyone speaks is just a vestigial remnant of a long-ago period of Spanish Colonization of the country. I don't think I've ever been to a place where there is such a disconnect between the place names and the language; it is really kind of strange and interesting. However, there are a few borrowed words from Spanish in the Tagalog language. Many more people speak English, which is an official language of the Philippines, along with Tagalog.

When I was heading to Intramuros, I took a jeepney to the Manila Metro Station. In Manila, the Metro does not cover a lot of the area as it does in many other cities, so jeepneys have evolved to fill the transportation void and get people from areas not covered by the metro to the metro stations. So daily transportation for people in Metro Manila is usually a two or three step process. You either walk or take a jeepney to the metro station, take the metro, and then walk or jeepney to your destination. Or in some cases, you might just take a jeepney, or a series of jeepneys. They are incredibly cheap; the usual fare is seven pesos, which is about fifteen cents in US dollars. When a jeepney is starting its route, it will usually sit there for a while until enough people have boarded to make it worth it to get going. I'm not sure what the tipping point is, but it seems to be at least about half full, though if nobody else is coming for quite a while, it will probably take off. The stops are very can just let the driver know you want to get off, or people on the sidewalk will hail the jeepney like you might a taxi. Jeepneys started out after World War II as converted jeeps that have been elongated, as there were a lot of Jeeps left over after the war, but now they are manufactured especially for their intended purpose. They seem to be pretty much a phenomenon solely of the Philippines. The jeepney has two rows of bench seats which are basically long padded boxes, one one each side. It has about four feet of vertical clearance; not enough to stand up, but enough to take a seat. And if the seats are full, people can congregate on the back bumper and hang on to the rails in the back. You hand your fare to the driver, and those in back will pass their fare to the front. I have seen street children, some looking as young as about three, snatching rides on the jeepneys just hanging from the bumpers with their butts barely above the ground. And there are a lot of street children in Manila. Some of them are begging or sleeping by the sidewalk or street, and I've even seen naked toddlers walking around with nobody else in sight.

After taking the jeepney, I got off where almost everybody was getting off, at the train station. I took the train to Central Station in Manila, which was the closest station to Intramuros, and walked the rest of the way. There are many pedicabs that try to aggressively recruit people for rides to Intramuros from the station, but I wanted to walk. After leaving Intramuros and taking the train back, I got on a jeepney again, but it was going the wrong way. On the way there, I was told to take a jeepney going to “Buendia”. So I tried that again, but this time it meant it was starting from Buendia (which is the name of the boulevard and also the name of a train station, though it turns out there is more than one Buendia station far from the other one...that is a phenomenon that is repeated in Metro Manila, as there are many stations with the same name, sometimes nowhere near each other), and going to one of the other destinations listed on the jeepney. Jeepneys usually have several stops or destinations listed on the side. If you are not familiar with all the destinations, which are mostly stations in Metro Manila, it is easy to get on the wrong jeepney. Anyway, this jeepney dumped me off, after passing through some of the sketchiest neighborhoods I had yet seen, in the middle of Pasay City. I ended up walking back to Makati from there rather than risk taking another jeepney to an unknown destination. I will have to learn more about the names of the destinations and where they are if I want to take more jeepneys. But I'll only be in the Philippines for a couple of weeks, so I may not have time to become all that familiar with the names of all the places. There is a map of jeepney routes online, but I took a look at it and it is a confusing, tangled mess. And they probably change all the time...they are all run by independent operators.

In the next few days, I spent more time exploring the Metro Manila area. I walked across the river from Makati to Mandaluyong, which is a much poorer area than Makati. Many of the streets in Mandaluyong are badly torn up and filled with open sewage and inadequate drainage from the frequent rainstorms of the rainy season. The prices for almost everything there are cheaper than they are in Makati. I also visited Quezon City, which is a fairly large city and also one of the wealthier regions. I'll probably spend the rest of my time here just exploring more of Metro Manila and checking out the scene here.

1 comment:

  1. Damn. It sounds like a writhing, chaotic tangle of humanity. I love that you bought your ticket and THEN started researching the country. You're not called Stuart the Maniac for nothing.